DOLPHINS!!!

•February 21, 2017 • Leave a Comment

I’ve been fascinated by dolphins since I was a kid. I don’t know whether it was the vague recollections of the original Flipper TV series, the sightings off the beach of Anna Maria Island while on vacation, the Jacques Cousteau specials  or a combination of all three, but for some reason I’ve always been intrigued by and interested in these amazing creatures.

On those Anna Maria Island vacations I would often see small groups of dolphins moving up or down the beach at nearly the same times each day. While laying on the beach reading, I’d have my mask and snorkel and fins at the ready. As soon as I spotted the dolphins in the distance I would don my gear and head for the water. No matter how many times I tried–I never got close enough for an underwater glimpse.

This morning, I set out to get in my first training in the outrigger canoe in a week. It was a relatively calm, overcast morning on the water near Dunedin–just enough break in the clouds to let a little orange glow from the sunrise peek through. At about the four-mile mark as I started to turn around I noticed a couple of small groups of dolphins. They were feeding and frolicking and I just had to stop. Most were at least a few yards away, but one passed right in front of the bow for a close encounter.

It was an interruption to what was supposed to have been a continuous, steady workout–but, more importantly, it was a reminder of why I love to train in natural environments.

It also reminded me that I have a novel I wrote–with dolphins at the core–that is waiting for completion–as well as two other novel storylines with dolphins at the center waiting–waiting for me to harness the motivation to move forward.

Maybe today’s encounter will be the little push I’ve needed.

PRESIDENT’S DAY–U.S.A.

•February 20, 2017 • Leave a Comment

presidents-day1Today, in the United States of America, we celebrate the birth of two of our greatest Presidents–George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. The holiday is not about sales or just an excuse to go the beach, it’s about what each of these men contributed to the formation of our American character and our American nation.

Both men impacted our country in profound ways. On this day, I wanted to simply share some of their words.

George Washington

“If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”

“Guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism”

“Let your heart feel for the afflictions and distress of everyone, and let your hand give in proportion to your purse.”

“I conceive that a knowledge of books is the basis on which all other knowledge rests.”

“Few men have virtue enough to withstand the highest bidder.”

“Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire, called conscience.”

 

Abraham Lincoln

“The time comes upon every public man when it is best for him to keep his lips closed.”

“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”

“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

“I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.”

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

“The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend.”

 

Wise words from wise men.

 

 

STOP MAILING YOUR SH*T TO MY DAD: MAIL FRAUD and THE ELDERLY

•February 10, 2017 • 3 Comments

mail-5PLEASE! PLEASE! PLEASE! Stop mailing your misleading SH*T to my 85-year old dad!

Last week I bagged up (for disposal) six 30 gallon garbage bags of junk mail. I spent a couple of hours sorting through the mail my dad had accumulated because it was just too overwhelming for him to sort with any kind of speed. Why is my 85-year old father having trouble sorting this mail?

First, my dad comes from a time when snail mail meant something. If something came in the mail it was usually important. Sure, there were solicitations and “junk mail” back in the day, but they were typically more obvious and less overwhelmingly abundant. I’ve been at my dad’s house when the mail arrives and there are days when it does not fit in his mailbox–the mailman leaves it in a bin by his door.

mail-6Just a couple of days ago I was at my dad’s when the mail arrived. I went through the more than 60 envelopes with him. There was not a single piece of “legitimate” mail–a bill, a statement or other official documents. But there were plenty of solicitations, pleas and “gifts”–“gifts” that were “thank you’s” for the numerous small donations they had already scammed out of my trusting father with their manipulative tactics.

To call most of this mail is misleading would be a gross understatement. I’ve noticed several “tactics” that are being used.

  1. Blank Envelopes: If there is no indication of who it is from or what it’s about, of course you need to open it, right?
  2. Official-Looking Packaging
  3. “Urgent” Packaging
  4. Official-Sounding Text/Language
    1. “Confidential Checking Account Information Enclosed”
    2. “For Addressee Only”
  5. No Return Address/No Name of the Organization
  6. “Handwritten” Pleas
  7. Any combination of the above

In addition to these basics that you may see in your own junk mail, these criminals use particularly heinous methods to scare and manipulate the elderly. They use misleading and inflammatory language on topics relevant to seniors in their mailings:

  1. Social Security
  2. Medicare
  3. Retirement Benefits

Instead of actually helping–protecting the rights of seniors and their limited incomes–these leeches are bleeding away the elderly’s finances one $5, $10, $20 or $25 check at a time.

mail-1If you have an elderly parent (or grandparent), I highly suggest you start examining and talking to them about their mail–NOW. If they are receiving more than 10 pieces of junk mail a day–take a closer look. If they are starting to experience any type of (even mild) memory or cognitive issues, take an even closer look–and, find a way to examine their checkbook to see if they might be succumbing to the manipulative pleas and actually writing checks to these criminals.

The elderly often think that their donations to these organizations are tax-deductible contributions going to “charities”–but many are 501(c)(4) organizations (not 501(c)(3))and the contributions ARE NOT tax-deductible. Of course, you only see that if you can read past all the inflammatory language and make your way to the very fine print inconveniently located in just one place on their materials.

There is a blog I found specific to junk mail: ARE YOU DROWNING IN JUNK MAIL? I’ve found it useful–particularly as I go through my dad’s mail and try to get him off mailing lists one organization at a time. It has links to many of these junk mail offenders.

What these organizations are doing may or may not be illegal, but rest assured it is unethical and immoral. I encourage everyone to engage their parents, grandparents and legislators in this discussion and help end this travesty of elder abuse.

 

ORAMM: Round Two in 2017

•February 1, 2017 • 2 Comments

 

oramm-2016-start

2016 Pre-Race and Smiling

In July of 2016, I completed the Off-Road Assault on Mt. Mitchell–a mountain bike race in North Carolina’s Pisgah National Forest. I use the word “completed” because I did not have the best of days–finishing last in my age group and (I think) third from last overall. Still, I did manage to beat the cut-off time and suffered only one minor crash–but, those weren’t the race memories I’m used to having.

 

I had trained pretty hard for the 2016 event, but even with the number of cycling miles I put in, I knew that I could have done a better job in 2016–and, with some tweaks to my training, a better job in 2017.

My first realization was that I needed to better stick to my nutrition/hydration plan. I didn’t do well–it was hot and I did not hydrate well enough to compensate. My one hamstring was cramping and seizing up so badly, there were long stretches in the second half where I just couldn’t pedal without the risk of falling off the bike–I walked uphill a lot. I also didn’t regularly use the Hammer Nutrition supplements that I had been using in training. Finally, I just don’t think I put in quite enough calories during the ride–I finished with leftover gels and bars. My goal is to remedy that in 2017–sticking more strictly to an improved nutrition/hydration plan.

 

oramm-2016-finish-ugh

Post-race Not Smiling

My second realization was that the most technical single track trails were not nearly as horrifying as I expected. Sure, there were a couple of downhill sections that I didn’t ride (and still might walk in 2017), but it wasn’t nearly as technically challenging as expected. I do know that I need to get in some practice with tight downhill switchbacks–something I will do in 2017.

 

Speaking of switchbacks, I also recognized that I need more practice with the tight uphill switchbacks as well. I spent too much time off the bike in 2016 because I couldn’t make some of those turns while climbing.

ride-to-falls-pre-raceGear. My bike (Specialized Stump Jumper) performed well. No complaints with my bike. But, the soles of my shoes delaminated (maybe from all the walking?) just before the main Heartbreak Ridge downhill in the last third of the race. They were my (old) back-up shoes–used mainly because I couldn’t bring myself to drop the cash on a new pair of mountain bike shoes. I ended up zip-tying them (with mixed results) until I encountered a race medic who wrapped them generously with athletic tape. Of course, I’ve invested in a new pair of shoes since then.

Finally, I just need to do a bit more climbing. I did a bit of hill work last year–mostly at Croom on the trails and the paved roads close to Tucker hill–but I don’t feel like it was enough. So, in addition to riding at Croom, a training trip north to the mountains late in the Spring, I plan to get in some training rides in the hilly bits of San Antonio (Florida).

My goal for the 2017 ORAMM is to take (at least) an hour off of my 2016 time. Yes, a whole hour–that just shows how slow I was in 2016 and how much room I have for improvement!

 

Many? Some? Few? Demand Precision

•January 29, 2017 • Leave a Comment

img_0981My cats and I have different interpretations of the words “a lot” and “frequently.” To Harpo, Lolie and Darryl (when referring to how often they would like to be fed wet food) “frequently” likely means three times a day (or more). In my mind, “frequently” is once a day. Likewise, I think “a lot” of catnip is about a half teaspoon sprinkled on a toy–for them, it’s an entire eight ounce container they can romp through.

These different interpretations are definitely linked to an agenda–mine is to not spend all my money on wet cat food while theirs is to eat wet cat food all the time. Likewise, they want to romp in catnip and run around like banshees all night, while I just want them to get a little playful for about 30 minutes.

manyvsmuchPeople have similarly different interpretations of what are called “indefinite numbers”–words like “several,” “many,” “most” “frequently” and “few;” or, even more informal terms like “oodles,” “a smidge,” “tons” or “a lot.” “Several” or “many” might refer to “more than 10” or “or more than 100” or “more than a million’ depending on the context and/or the individual. “Most agree” might mean, to you, that 90% agree, while to me it might mean that 51% or more agree–there is a difference in that perception. Why does this matter?

Skim the news headlines, Facebook newsfeeds or Twitter feeds on any given day and you are likely to encounter the imprecision of at least one of these words. These words are often (what do we mean by “often?”), used by authors and speakers to disguise the fact that they really don’t have concrete information (precise numbers) about a subject. Sometimes the omission of exact numbers is simply because the information is not available–sometimes, it is deliberately left out to serve a particular agenda. That agenda also can be more nefarious than simply getting served an extra can of wet cat food–it can be used to distort or obscure the truth.

Take for example this headline from ABC News in December of 2016:

“Trump has declined many intelligence briefings offered to him according to Senate Aide.”

I would think that someone (source or reporter) may have been able to quantify exactly how many briefings were declined (or at least narrow the range down a bit). That said, maybe the precise number wasn’t enough to cause the alarm the “Senate Aide” desired. Or, maybe the source really didn’t know the precise number; maybe the reporter didn’t have an alternate source that knew the precise number.

Of course, then President-elect Trump’s Chief of Staff, Reince Preibus didn’t clarify matters when he responded that intelligence briefings were “happening quite frequently.” Again, “quite frequently” might mean “once a week” to you or  “everyday” to me. Was Preibus using indefinite numbers because he thought the regularity of briefings might not seem “quite frequent” enough to some people? Or, at the time, did he truly not know how often the briefings were taking place?

We’re lucky the people who use indefinite numbers aren’t writing our paychecks (“This week you’re getting paid many dollars.”) or prescribing our medicine (“Take this pill frequently.”).  But these vague terms are being used by politicians of every party, by traditional and non-traditional media–those with the power to influence and those with the power to act.

When you see the use of indefinite numbers in a news article/report, on Facebook or Twitter or even in conversation, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Is more precision needed for you to understand the point?
  2. If yes, do you think it would have been possible for the writer or speaker to have been more precise?
  3. If yes, do you think the writer or speaker was deliberately avoiding that precision for some purpose?
  4. If yes, what was that purpose?

Demand precision when it comes to numbers. Read and listen critically–don’t be manipulated by your leaders, the media or your cats.

 

Keep Running FUN!

•January 25, 2017 • Leave a Comment

As some of you already know, I am a reluctant runner. I know it’s great for overall fitness and I enjoy it (more) when I’ve been consistently running. But, there are times when my old images of running drudgery and heavy-footed death shuffles creep into my psyche and I need to make running fun again.

Sometimes, just getting into the woods and running on a trail can help. Sometimes, I require something more “adventurous.”

Coming off a week of being sick (bad head cold), I did a somewhat pleasurable 3-mile trail run to re-start my running this past Monday. It wasn’t the best run, but as I tell myself, “Every time I run it’s a win.” Still, I was left a little wanting.

orienteering-marker-permLuckily, I was running at Starkey Wilderness Park in Pasco County and I happened to start and finish my run adjacent to an old Eagle Scout Project–a permanent orienteering course. I had printed off the course instructions a while ago and put them in my Starkey file–which I happened to have with me as I was also at the park for an event meeting. I pulled out the instructions, looked at the time and figured I had time to do the one mile course prior to my meeting.

orienteering-1I grabbed my compass, stuck the instructions in a Ziploc bag, strapped on my water belt and dashed off into the woods. It’s a bearing/distance-type of orienteering course, so I was dialing the bearing in on my compass and then dashing off along that course while counting my “paces.” It was a series of sprints and stops cross country–easy ground and rough ground, under trees and through tall grass–all while sporting a face-stretching smile.

I made it back to my vehicle with enough time to do a quick change, drink a little recovery drink and drive over to the park office for my meeting.

 

orienteering-selfie-at-starkey-parkIt was just what I needed to help reinvigorate my running and start my day off full of positive mental energy. And, in the back of my mind I was creating future running workouts that will also incorporate that orienteering course.

For information on the Starkey Wilderness Park permanent orienteering course click here.

For information on other permanent orienteering courses in Florida click here.

Now, get out and add some fun to your running!

1984 in 2017: Better late than…?

•January 24, 2017 • 1 Comment

1984-book-cover

ALTERNATIVEFACTS=ALTFACTS=NEWSPEAK

My first impression upon hearing the discussion regarding the use of the term “alternative facts” in the news media over the past few days was that George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth from 1984 was manifesting itself in 2017.

In the classic dystopian novel (which we all should now re-read), the Ministry of Truth controls information–news, entertainment, the arts and education (and, hence, language). One of the ministry’s main functions is to “rectify” historical records so that they support the current policies of the ruling party and Big Brother. They are not so much creating “alternative facts” as creating the only facts. There are no alternatives–only the ruling party’s take on the truth.

How do they get away with this in 1984?

Overtly, anyone who chooses to deviate from the currently prevailing party line is severely punished. Citizens must believe what the party/ministry/Big Brother say–even if it contradicts what they may have said in the past. The classic example is the slogan “We’ve always been at war with Eastasia.” When, in fact, they had been allies with Eastasia in a war against Eurasia. But, the threat of punishment and the constant repetition of the “new reality” quickly creates a citizenry that falls in line.

This surely echoes the current state of what is currently referred to as “fake news”–not in the sense that punishment creates complicity, but in the sense of it being repeated, reposted (and “liked”) on Facebook and re-Tweeted thousands or hundreds of thousands of times. Repetition creates reality?

More subtly, the Ministry of Truth manipulates language–using Newspeak to sanitize the English language (“oldspeak”) of precise meaning and expressiveness. In many ways, it is an oversimplification of language.

Antonyms disappear–replaced by the prefix “un-” (e.g. warm becomes “uncold” and bad becomes “ungood”). Is “alt-” the 2017 version? “Alt-Facts,” “Alt-Right,” “Alt-science?”

Nuances disappear (e.g. the subtle differences between good, great, excellent and best simply become “plusgood” or “doubleplusgood). Today, there might be a thousand variations on the smiley face emoji–but, can they convey the same emotion or expressiveness of the written word? For the sake of (an artificially created need for) brevity, conveniently use “LOL,” “OMG,” “BTW,” “LMAO” and thousands of other acronyms. Can any convey a meaning as precise as proper use of an extensive vocabulary?

Are we on our way to not only a post-factual but also a post-textual society? Will words (and even acronyms) soon be replaced by pictures/pictographs/emojis?